In his classic brutally frank manner, President Rodrigo Duterte fired off a warning yesterday against his anti-drugs czarina Vice President Leni Robredo if she compromises the operations of the unrelenting war on drugs.
In a television interview, the President said Robredo, who was appointed co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), should consider herself fired the moment she reveals information that will endanger the security of the state.
Robredo recently met with representatives of foreign institutions such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, community-based advocacy groups and United States Embassy officials to discuss the narcotics problem.
ICAD members, including her co-head, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Aaron Aquino, have expressed reservations on releasing documents she was requesting, including the list of high-value targets in the anti-narcotics drive.
“There’s a limit to that. I know that she’s a lawyer and she has advisers, but there are certain matters that should be kept within the government,” according to the President.
“Classified matters cannot be shared. Once she does that, she’s out, I would fire her. Because you jeopardized the security of the state,” Duterte said at the Camp Lukban Station Hospital in Catbalogan City where he conferred honors on soldiers who were either killed or injured in a recent encounter with New People’s Army rebels in Samar.
A trade group also flayed Robredo for stereotyping Filipinos with Chinese lineage as traffickers of illegal drugs. While there may be “a handful of wrongdoers,” a generalization linking Filipino-Chinese individuals to drug syndicates constitutes “besmirching our community’s reputation,” the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) said in a statement.
“We want to reiterate that most, if not all of the ethnic Chinese community members in the country, are law-abiding Filipino citizens, legitimate business people and conscientious in upholding rule of law,” the group said.
“Let us be more careful in making public statements that may unnecessarily create rancor, conflicts, misunderstanding and promote unfair stereotypes,” it said.
Robredo had issued remarks that most drug suspects in the Philippines were Chinese nationals or are Filipino-Chinese.
FFCCCII said it has been supportive of the government’s intensified campaign against illegal drugs, noting that since 2016, FFCCCII has been making donations to rehabilitation centers in at least five provinces.
“We join the government and our law enforcement agencies in condemning and working towards eradicating the menace of illegal drugs as a moral scourge, a threat to public health and the socio-economic stability of the Philippines,” it added.
“We believe that a holistic anti-illegal drug campaign should include rehabilitation of drug users,” the trade group said.
FFCCCII also indicated its support to the reimposition of the death penalty for heinous crimes despite the bill for it having stalled in the Senate.
“We may look at our Asian neighbors like Singapore, China and Taiwan on how capital punishment has deterred the commission of heinous crimes,” the trade association noted.
Leni backs down
Robredo, meanwhile, backtracked on her demand that the ICAD provide her sensitive information on the war on drugs as she said in an interview that she does not mind if she will not get what she was asking for.
In an interview in Bula, Camarines Sur on Saturday, Robredo said she is used to working “with many limitations.”
“If it is not given to me, I can find other ways to get these. I cannot control the decision of the agencies,” she told reporters.
“I expect a lot of resentment and mistrust. We can’t avoid that because of the prevailing circumstances. But for me, whatever I can do to make a difference, I will do,” she added.
“I’m very realistic when I decided to accept the designation. I understand there will be many limitations. And I’m used to adjust with it so I will work on what we have,” she continued.
Aside from the list of high-value targets, Robredo also wanted a complete baseline data from each agency in the ICAD, such as the number of drug users and traffickers, including those arrested or those who surrendered since the start of the campaign in 2016.
Robredo can only view list
Aquino, nonetheless, said the PDEA is willing to provide Robredo the list of high-value targets in a closed-door meeting only in the presence of personnel with security clearance.
Aquino said the list is considered classified information that is why not everybody must have a copy of it.
He said security clearance refers to the access given to employees on classified information.
“The simplest explanation is that if we give the list to VP Robredo, we won’t know who would have access to the list,” Aquino said.
He also cited the “need to know rule” in law enforcement where not everybody is given access to sensitive and classified information.
“I myself have no copy of the list in my possession. What I am doing is I check it from time to time with my intelligence service and conduct workshops against these personalities,” Aquino said.
He also clarified that this is not an act of resistance or disrespect to the Vice President rather this is a mere standard operation procedure on law enforcement operations.
“Imagine what will happen to the efforts of law enforcement if that list landed in the wrong hands?” Aquino said.